Despite the florescent lighting and windowless, boxy space, it is nothing like a traditional food shopping experience.
Booths of fresh produce, ethnic delicacies, handmade pasta and breads, and a variety of artisan cheese, meat, and pastries stand ready for harried commuters to dash in and out moments later with enough ingredients to make whatever meal is envisioned for the evening.
Or so I thought.
I got there in plenty of time to wander around and look for items for this recipe - Feisty Green Beans from 101 Cookbooks. I was immediately drawn to this dish for its central use of green beans, one of my favorite veggies, and combination of spices.
I set out to find all of the ingredients that I needed to buy. Onions, garlic, green beans, and sour cream were easy. We had virtually everything else in the pantry except tofu, which was no where to be found.
I asked the cashier at the produce stand and she shook her head. I browsed the shelves of another small grocer. Nada. I did an entire loop around the market, and saw nothing that resembled tofu. I was starting to think that I would substitute chicken, when the guy behind the counter at Chicago Organics caught my eye.
"Can I help you?" he asked, eager to please.
"I'm looking for tofu. You don't have any by chance," I said, with hope.
He paused in thought, shook his head, and then said the words I dreaded to hear.
"No. I don't think anyone sells tofu here."
But then, then...
"But you might try asking at the Asian sandwich shop over there," he said, nodding to Saigon Sisters across the aisle. "Just ask, they might have some to sell to you. You never know."
I had nothing to lose.
"Do you happen to have any uncooked tofu," I asked the smiling woman. "I need it for a recipe and can't find any."
She disappeared in the storage room, emerging a few minutes later with a vacuum-sealed package of fried tofu. Not uncooked, but good enough for me.
"I'll sell it to you for $2.50," she said. "And do you want some bread?" she gestured to a bowl of mini-baguettes. "You can have it for free."
I paid, took a loaf, and went off in search of cheese.
I barely made my train.